In this last Swaminomics of the millennium, I would like to sum up our performance in the 20th century in one sentence. Indians have succeeded in countries ruled by whites, but failed in their own.
This outcome would have astonished leaders of our independence movement. They declared Indians were kept down by white rule and could flourish only under self-rule. This seemed self-evident. The harsh reality today is that Indians are succeeding brilliantly in countries ruled by whites, but failing in India. They are flourishing in the USA and Britain. But those that stay in India are pulled down by an outrageous system that fails to reward merit or talent fails to allow people and businesses to grow, and keeps real power lies with netas, babus, and assorted manipulators. Once Indians go to white-ruled countries, they soar and conquer summits once occupied only by whites.
Rono Dutta has become head of United Airlines, the biggest airline in the world. Had he stayed in India, he would have no chance in Indian Airlines. Even if the top job there was given him by some godfather, a myriad netas, babus and trade unionists would have ensured that he could never run it like United Airlines.
Rana Talwar has become head of Standard Chartered Bank Plc, one of the biggest multinational banks in Britain, while still in his 40s. Had he been in India, he would perhaps be a local manager in the State Bank, taking orders from babus to give dud loans to politically favoured clients.
Rajat Gupta is head of Mckinsey, the biggest management consultancy firm in the world. He now advises the biggest multinationals on how to run their business. Had he remained in India he would probably be taking orders from some sethji with no qualification save that of being born in a rich family.
Lakhsmi Mittal has become the biggest steel baron in the world, with steel plants in the US, Kazakhstan, Germany, Mexico, Trinidad and Indonesia. India’s socialist policies reserved the domestic steel industry for the public sector. So Lakhsmi Mittal went to Indonesia to run his family?s first steel plant there. Once freed from the shackles of India, he conquered the world.
Subhash Chandra of Zee TV has become a global media king, one of the few to beat Rupert Murdoch. He could never have risen had he been limited to India, which decreed a TV monopoly for Doordarshan. But technology came to his aid: satellite TV made it possible for him to target India from Hong Kong. Once he escaped Indian rules and soil, he soared.
You may not have heard of 48-year old Gururaj Deshpande. His communications company, Sycamore, is currently valued by the US stock market at over $ 30 billion, making him perhaps the richest Indian in the world. Had he remained in India, he would probably a babu in the Department of Telecommunications.
Arun Netravali has become president of Bell Labs, one of the biggest research and development centres in the world with 30,000 inventions and several Nobel Prizes to its credit. Had he been in India, he would probably be struggling in the middle cadre of Indian Telephone Industries.
Silicon Valley alone contains over one lakh Indian millionaires. Sabeer Bhatia invented Hotmail and sold it to Microsoft for $ 400 million. Victor Menezes is number two in Citibank. Shailesh Mehta is CEO of Providian, a top US financial services company. Also at or near the top are Rakesh Gangwal of US Air, Jamshd Wadia of Arthur Andersen, and Aman Mehta of Hong Kong Shanghai Bank.
In Washington DC, the Indian CEO High Tech Council has no less than 200 members, all high tech-chiefs. While Indians have soared, India has stagnated.
At independence India was the most advanced of all colonies, with the best prospects. Today with a GNP per head of $ 370, it occupies a lowly 177th position among 209 countries of the world. But poverty is by no means the only or main problem. India ranks near the bottom in the UNDP’s Human Development Index, but high up in Transparency International’s Corruption Index.
The neta-babu raj brought in by socialist policies is only one reason for India?s failure. The more sordid reason is the rule-based society we inherited from the British Raj is today in tatters. Instead money, muscle and influence matter most.
At independence we were justly proud of our politicians. Today we regard them as scoundrels and criminals. They have created a jungle of laws in the holy name of socialism, and used these to line their pockets and create patronage networks. No influential crook suffers. The mafia flourish unhindered because the have political links. The sons of police officers believe they have a licence to rape and kill (ask the Mattoo family).
Talent cannot take you far amidst such rank misgovernance. We are reverting to our ancient feudal system where no rules applied to the powerful. The British Raj brought in abstract concepts of justice for all, equality before the law. These were maintained in the early years of independence. But fifty years later, citizens wail that India is a lawless land where no rules are obeyed.
I have heard of an IAS probationer at the Mussorie training academy pointing out that in India before the British came, making money and distributing favors to relatives was not considered a perversion of power, it was the very rationale of power. A feudal official had a duty to enrich his family and caste. Then the British came and imposed a new ethical code on officials. But, he asked, why should we continue to choose British customs over desi ones now that we were independent?
The lack of transparent rules, properly enforced, is a major reason why talented Indians cannot rise in India. A second reason is the neta-babu raj, which remains intact despite supposed liberalisation. But once talented Indians go to rule-based societies in the west, they take off. In those societies all people play by the same rules, all have freedom to innovate without being strangled by regulations.
This, then, is why Indians succeed in countries ruled by whites, and fail in their own. It is the saddest story of the century.